Russia Space Chief Suggests International Space Station Leak Could Be Sabotage

Roscosmos head Dmitry Rogozin, known for bombastic comments, said it was “a matter of honor” to “find the one responsible” for the puncture.

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Sep 4 2018, 2:25pm

Soyuz capsule on the ISS. Image: NASA

Dmitry Rogozin, the newly appointed head of the Russian space corporation Roscosmos, suggested on Monday that a leak detected at the International Space Station (ISS) may have been an act of sabotage. Rogozin claimed during a press conference that “a wavering hand” was possibly responsible for the puncture, and asked: "What is this: a production defect or some premeditated action?"

The leak was detected last Wednesday by ground controllers in Houston and Moscow, while the ISS crew was asleep. Since it posed no immediate threat, the ground team waited until the crew woke up to inform them. On Thursday, the astronauts and cosmonauts tracked down the puncture to the Russian Soyuz MS-09 capsule docked to the ISS. The two-millimeter hole in the hull of the spacecraft, which is responsible for ferrying humans to and from Earth, was patched with tape, and then sealed twice with epoxy.

Initial reports about the leak suggested that a micrometeorite may have torn through the Soyuz hull. But Rogozin said he ruled out the micrometeorite theory since the puncture appeared to have been created from inside the capsule. He insinuated that it could have been drilled into the hull, accidentally or on purpose, either during the Soyuz’s preparation phase on Earth or perhaps even by an ISS crew member in space.

An anonymous source quoted in Russian news agency RIA Novosti said that "the appearance of a hole” was due to “negligence.” The source claimed an Energia employee might have punctured the hull, and sealed it with glue to help the spacecraft pass pressurization tests before it was launched.

An even wilder theory was floated by former cosmonaut Maxim Surayev, who now serves as an MP in President Putin’s United Russia party. Surayev speculated that one of the ISS crew members may have deliberately punctured the Soyuz in order to get sent back to Earth early.

"We're all human, and anyone might want to go home, but this method is really low," Surayev, who was a member of ISS expeditions 21/22 and 40/41, told Russian news agency RIA Novosti. "If a cosmonaut pulled this strange stunt—and that can't ruled out— it's really bad."

Read More: The International Space Station Just Sprung a Leak

Rogozin, who took over as Roscosmos director general in May 2018 after serving for seven years as deputy prime minister for the Russian defense industry, said that it was “a matter of honor” for Soyuz manufacturer Energia to “find the one responsible” for the puncture. He has a reputation for bombastic remarks, including a notorious 2014 tweet in response to US sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea, in which he stated that NASA would be forced to use a trampoline to send its astronauts to space without the Russian Soyuz capsule.

NASA and the European Space Agency have not yet weighed in on these new claims, and it will require a more substantive investigation to determine the cause of the leak.

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